Carlton entered his house to deafening static. It was grating enough that he didn’t bother to lock the door before he rushed to turn the television off, but neither the remote nor the controls on the set seemed to work. He grunted in annoyance, and yanked the plug out of the wall only to stare at the screen in shock.

     The damn thing was still on.

     This is hardly the most bizarre thing that’s happened to you today, Carlton thought. Rubbing his forehead in frustration, he called out to Princess and announced that he was home. There was no response.

     “I’m waiting!”

     From inside the noise, he heard her reply. “Take your guns from the wall,” she said. “Load them into your truck.”

     This startled him. He had to be hallucinating. But there was more going on here than imaginary chatter–he wasn’t just hearing the white noise, he was seeing the snow on the screen, and the room was lit up by the flickering television. He knew from dealing with Roderigo that visual hallucinations were never that detailed. It was usually the internal voices that seemed the most real, and they seemed the most real when the delusions played into them. But developing psychosis at his age was rare.

     Then again, he thought, it could be exhaustion.

     “Take the most powerful ones you have,” the voice said, this time clearer and more demanding. “The ones at the top are the best.”

     Before he could ask for details, the television’s screeching stopped, the screen cut out and the glow faded to black. That didn’t surprise him; it was just like Princess to give an order and leave. If that was even her.

     He turned to his gun rack and safe. Locked behind a plexiglass case and hanging from hooks, he could see two shotguns, four rifles and six handguns. He frowned.

     They weren’t placed in the right order.

     Two Verity pistols were hung awkwardly from their trigger guards. To their right, a Jericho Thunder was placed so haphazardly it seemed primed to fall. All three were chambered in .45 NAACO; complete overkill for anything smaller than a brown bear. Beneath them was his Tac-85 Trench Gun, a slug gun and his prized Garand, all where his hunting rifles should have been.

     “Christ,” he said, “it’s like she wants me to go to war with a pride of lions.” With the exceptions of the Trench Gun and Garand, these weapons were all built for hunting or wilderness defense; they had small magazines and too much recoil and penetration for home defense. The rifle wasn’t much better–it was antique battle rifle developed for use by turn-of-the-century soldiers, and it had enough power behind it to go through a steel door. It wasn’t like Princess wouldn’t have known this. She had spent enough time around him to know that which of his firearms were reasonable for home defense.

     The fact that she’d chosen such overkill was enough to make him wince. What the hell was he going to face? To him, it was no longer a question of whether or not he was hallucinating. He didn’t want to walk up to the Carters with this arsenal if he was out of his mind, but at the same time, he really didn’t want to go up against whatever was coming.

     As he placed the last gun in his footlocker, Carlton turned back to his gun safe. It clicked in his mind that while she told him to go after the ones on top, she’d also said to grab his most powerful guns. The guns he had were definitely powerful, but there were others in the safe that were arguably better. Haymaker was the best shotgun he had, and its ability to handle magnum shells with ease would come in handy no matter what he faced. The ability to use hard-hitting loads, along with its custom grip and folding stock, made it more versatile than the Trench Gun could ever hope to be.

     Then there were his 1911’s. Black Falcon, a compact double-action take on the design, was probably the best balance between killing power and sane weaponry he had. But its newly designed big brother was probably the most powerful handgun he had that wasn’t a dedicated hunting pistol. Sure, the magnums were considerably more powerful, but the Crimson Hawk had a larger magazine and less recoil. And it still was more gun than was needed for anything short of a bear.

     He still wasn’t sure that it wasn’t all in his head. However, his gut told him that, hallucination or not, something was coming, and that that something was dangerous enough that not having some relatively sane weaponry would likely get them killed. With that thought in mind, he smiled eagerly, feeling that he was ready for whatever the coming days would throw at him.

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